Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011 Opening Day Impressions

Logic seems to say that it's wise not to think much of anything that happens on Opening Day. Here are just a few observations, without many conclusions, from today's loss against the Dodgers:

There were some disappointing moments in today's game, and only a few encouraging ones, but that will happen when you face Clayton Kershaw at his best. Remember this? Brandon Belt's placement on the big league roster was the big story yesterday, and in my mind he was the most impressive Giants position player today. We finally got to see him in a big league game of meaning, and he didn't look overwhelmed at all. He had some of the best at bats against an extremely difficult left handed pitcher. His first hit wasn't conventional, but he showed his characteristic patience at the plate, drawing a walk and making LA pitchers throw a total of 27 pitches, the most of an Giant (Andres Torres 2nd with 24, no one else above 17). I don't know what the ESPN guys were talking about in his final at bat. Something about a slow minor league bat? Huh? I agree with Dave Cameron that Orel Hershiser offered some good inside baseball knowledge, but there were strange moments during the broadcast. Why the announcers became obsessed with Andres Torres swinging on 2-0 is beyond me. Also, I saw more behind the backstop camera views in this game then I've ever seen, when it was completely unnecessary.

Lincecum wasn't his fully dominant self, but he was quite strong, and fell victim to bloop singles and poor defense. Burrell and Huff at the corner outfield spots is...interesting. Tejada looked okay on some routine plays, and then tried to do too much, something that shouldn't happen. Just make the easy plays. We warned you about Tejada. But we'll revisit that in a month or so if the shortstop position shows itself to actually be a problem. I hope it works out. Posey and Sandoval also tried to do too much, and it led to the first run of the game. This game may have been very different if the Giants had been smarter in that inning. But I also don't mind the aggressiveness and will to make a play.

For a moment I was sad that Lincecum got a loss, that he was 0-1 after tonight, and then I realized I was thinking about wins and losses.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Brandon Belt Makes the Cut

I'll admit that I was pretty apathetic about the whole "Will Belt start the season in AAA or in the big leagues" thing. If he made the team, great. If he was sent back to AAA, fine, a little minor league seasoning wouldn't hurt and the Giants would probably be fine for a month or two without him. Well, today Belt made the cut, and I am very, very excited. If nothing else, there's always a lot of anticipation involved with a top prospect making their debut and thinking about that prospect carrying your favorite team for years to come. It's also pretty refreshing to see a team ignore all the arbitration clock crap. Don't get me wrong, that stuff is important, but it shouldn't affect putting your best team out on the field. The Giants thought Belt was ready, they wanted him on the team now, and they aren't worrying about how much more money he'll make in a few years.

Of course, as the Giants set their 25-man roster today, there were other roster moves made. To make room for Belt, the Giants designated Travis Ishikawa for assignment. That was no surprise as Ishikawa becomes sort of redundant and inferior with Belt on the roster. The interesting thing to see will happen in a few weeks when Cody Ross comes off the disabled list. If the Giants are rolling, Ross is probably staying on the bench, at least initially. But if Burrell struggles or maybe even Torres starts slowly, they might be the ones losing their starting spot. And who gets cut? Every Giants fan and their mother wants Rowand and his $24 million slary cut, but it could be Nate Schierholtz.

The last bullpen spot was given to Dan Runzler. I'm not sure what that means for his attempted transition into a starting pitcher, but it does mean that Ryan Vogelsong and Marc Kroon, both longshots to make the roster, are headed for the minors. Guillermo Mota was also given a bullpen spot, and one of he and Runzler is likely gone once Brian Wilson comes off the DL.

Here's what the final roster looks like:

Starting Lineup

F. Sanchez



Starting Rotation

J. Sanchez



I also wanted to do a small division preview type of thing. We have been absolutely terrible offseason bloggers, and we really have no excuse. But by tomorrow night we will be doing recaps for every game and hopefully featuring more content in general. I think the regular season and watching actual games motivates us to write. Anyway, even though this should've been done in a different, more comprehensive post, here are my thoughts on the division.

I have the Giants finishing in first place, and if I get anyone telling me a homer, I might kill myself. The Giants are simply the most complete team in a pretty weak division. But as we've outlined before, they do need a lot of things to go right, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if the Rockies or even the Dodgers *shudder* came out on top. The Rockies usually hit a lot, but I really only see 2 dangerous hitters in their lineup, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. Their rotation is pretty solid, but nothing spectacular. I have them in second place. The Dodgers finish third, mostly because their offense could struggle to score runs and their staff is deep, but also not spectacular. The Padres don't have much going for them, but the Diamondbacks are terrible, so they'll finish in fourth place. The Diamondbacks are terrible. Fifth place. I'm not going to make any kind of World Series prediction because I don't want to pick against the Giants but I don't want to pick them either. There's my beautiful season preview.

Tomorrow is opening day. Opening day would be exciting enough, but it's Opening Day with the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants facing the enemy LA Dodgers. And Brandon Belt is making his debut. It doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jenkins on Zito: "Definitely Not Safe"

Barry Zito took the mound for his first spring-training start on Monday and walked the ballpark. It wasn't exactly what the Giants had in mind, and here's a message to all those fans who have seen enough of Zito: He's walking a very fine line within the organization.

This beginning excerpt of Bruce Jenkins' article from Tuesday introduces the theme of his piece throughout: the front office is not happy with Barry Zito. The article caused a stir on Twitter last night among Giants fan, and this morning it has gone national. Jenkins goes on to write:

A source close to the team indicated Tuesday that there is "exasperation" with Zito, that his status as the No. 5 starter is "definitely not safe," and that the team would even consider buying out his expensive contract before Opening Day if that's what it takes to say farewell.

Well where to start? I don't know what Bruce or the source mean by "buying out", all contracts in baseball are guaranteed, so what I'm going to assume is being implied here is that the Giants would cut Zito. Jenkins' source is the only place we have heard of Zito possibly being cut, most likely because the idea is about as insane and ludicrous as things get.

Zito isn't a great pitcher. He hasn't been since 2002, maybe 2003. It was the Giants' inability to recognize this that led to the awful contract they gave him in 2007. With the Giants, he had a pretty terrible season in 2008, and has been average in all other seasons, never being hurt (an important fact to remember when we get to another point in the article), while being paid like an ace. An unfortunate situation, but one which most everyone has accepted has no solution. After all, what is the solution that Jenkins seems to imply the Giants are considering? That they will simply cut him from the roster. Well, this is stupid as hell, because then they would still be paying the entirety of the contract. There's only one way that would maybe be the thing to do, and that would be if Zito was a terrible pitcher, which seems to be precisely the fallacy Jenkins is believing.

...and he wouldn't be anywhere near the Giants' roster this spring were it not for his contract: $18.5 million owed this season, another $39 million through 2013 and a $7 million buyout for 2014.

I saw a tweet this morning from a Yankees fan, saying that if the Giants cut Zito, he'd be worth a look at the league minimum. Our perception of Zito and the fact of him being so overpayed has led a lot of people to think he is somehow worthless. Know this: if Zito were to be on the open market today, he'd probably be offered half of what he's being payed now per year. That's a lot of money, but league average pitchers that you can count on to start every game of the season cost money. The league minimum contracts are reserved for oft-injured pitchers who had some good seasons but have been terrible recently (the Yankees have a bunch right now). The Giants have one of those guys in fact. His name is Jeff Suppan.

Meanwhile, the Giants will take a close look at 16-year veteran Jeff Suppan (3 shutout innings against Milwaukee on Monday), Class AA left-hander Clayton Tanner and other options for the No. 5 slot.

It's bad enough to imagine Suppan pitching at all this season; him as the 5th starter would be as bad as Todd Wellemeyer last year; now imagine cutting Zito, still paying Zito, and having Suppan replace him, while paying Suppan $1 million. That's exactly what Jenkins is suggesting the Giants are thinking of. I refuse to believe it.

...there's a healthy sense of urgency in the world champions' camp. They didn't clinch a postseason berth until the final game of the 2010 season, and they realize that just a single loss - something that could be avoided - could cost them a chance to repeat this year.

The Giants did win the World Series last year, and I would hope their sense of urgency is enough that they know to use their best pitchers. It's important to note that their is a player on the Giants with a large contract who could be cut: Aaron Rowand. Rowand, unlike Zito, does absolutely nothing for the team. His status is just as a roster spot occupier.

This last excerpt from the piece is where I really take issue with Jenkins:

There is concern that Zito hasn't been properly diligent in maintaining his physical conditioning...

Concern from who? The source (and therefore the Giants)? Yourself? People in general? I've never heard of any complaints about Zito's work ethic, and as mentioned before, he has never had injury trouble. "There is concern" sounds like a version of that infamous cable news phrase "some people say".